Monday, February 11, 2008
Which do you think takes a bigger toll on the environment, owning a dog, or owning an SUV? My bet would be on the dog. I'm thinking of all of the resources that go into dog food.Sad to say, I own both. I have a rather high bill for gasoline for the Touareg, and it just had a brake job that set me back half a day's pay. I pay a fair amount of taxes for the use of the roads, and presumably one has priced in the pollution in no small part by the restriction on building any additional refining capacity. Contra Mike Moffatt, dog food and gasoline do not play on a level playing field. Dog food competes with other uses of meat remains, and the land on which the cattle graze compete with other uses, like the ethanol some people want me to burn in my SUV.
On the other hand, Buttercup is a Boston Terrier. When she's not posing for Littlest or cheering the fortunes of the team that adopts her as a mascot, she eats relatively little food, takes up only a small portion of the bed or couch, and emits a relatively small amount of waste. This is important since I live in a city. I'd love a big dog that rode in my SUV, but I don't live in a place that can conveniently hold one (and because I live where it was -12 when I woke up this morning, the morning and evening walks hold no joy.) Oh yes, you say, there is Jasperwood! But that caters to a peculiar man's taste, and not this one's.
Cats cost less than dogs to feed (one site suggests $4./wk for a cat vs. $25./wk for a large dog.) Buttercup eats little more than a cat. Does $20./wk plus all the additional time in walking the larger animal correct for its imposition on the environment?
The point being, we value dogs and pay what they are worth, and Russ Roberts is right that there are tradeoffs. If there are externalities to dogs or SUVs they might be over or underprovided, but the prices we see in the market already capture these in some ways, and it isn't always obvious. Peter Gordon observes that using Atlantans behavior in urban and suburban settings doesn't tell us if the suburbanite has a greater carbon footprint because
...the Atlanta economy performs the way it does as a result of the interaction of all of its parts. Some analysts are fond of approvingly citing commuting habits of Manhattanites. So what? Manhattan is what it is because it is served by a vast hinterland and the aggregate accounts for the longest (solo auto) commutes in the U.S. This simple fact severely undermines what it is that Greens want to take away from the story.Likewise, the price of the SUV and the price of the dog and the dog's food are the result of the places that support the production of large vehicles and dog food. And those prices are already influenced and infected, if you will, by the government.